Monday

29th Aug 2016

Police can probe asylum fingerprints, commission says

  • Den Heijer: 'The proposal would effectively transform all asylum seekers whose data is stored into criminal suspects' (Photo: EU's attempts)

The European Commission on Wednesday (30 May) proposed to allow law enforcement authorities access to Eurodac, a biometric database of asylum seekers.

Set up in 2003, the database is a repository of asylum seeker fingerprints and is used to speed up asylum procedures and prevent people from making simultaneous claims in multiple member states.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Member state law enforcement authorities would be able to request the comparison of fingerprint data with those already stored in the Eurodac central database, but under strict conditions.

Police would only be allowed access in specific cases should they require information on a person suspected of terrorism or some other serious crime.

The query would provide a hit/no hit result. Should the result turn up positive, then the authority can request the member state to provide the personal details of the suspect.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement released on Wednesday (30 May), that “robust safeguards have been introduced” to ensure that the right to asylum is not in any way adversely affected.

'Asylum seekers are not criminals'

But Melita Sunjic, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brussels, told EUobserver that law enforcement access to the database would equate asylum seekers with criminality.

Sunjic also expressed concerns that law enforcement authorities may alert the asylum seeker’s country of origin. Such alerts could possibly jeopardise the lives of the asylum seeker and his or her family members still in the home country.

“People leave their home country because they are in danger there,” said Sunjic.

The Commission has yet to release the full details of the proposal but a memo claims the provisions would prohibit authorities from sharing any information with “third countries, organisations, or entities.”

A similar proposal was already tabled by the Commission in 2009 but was quickly shot down the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Meijers Committee, a group of experts on international immigration, refugee and criminal law.

Like the latest reiteration, the 2009 proposal also wanted to grant police access to the database, enabling them to request the data from the member state on the basis of returned negative results.

The fingerprint comparison would also only have been done in specific cases. The consultation of data stored on Eurodac would also have had to contribute to the prevention, detection, or investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences.

The 2009 proposal also said authorities would not be able to share the information with a “third country, international organisation or a private entity established in or outside the EU.”

But the Commission’s proposal then included an exception allowing member states to transfer the data to Norway, Iceland and Switzerland which are not bound by the EU directives on personal data.

Dr Maarten den Heijer, a member of the Meijers Committee and assistant professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam, told EUobserver that the latest proposal’s conflicts with the presumption of innocence and risks stigmatising asylum seekers.

“The proposal would effectively transform all asylum seekers whose data is stored into criminal suspects and it will, indeed, increase the chance of prosecution of asylum seekers solely on the basis that they have once lodged an asylum claim somewhere,” said Dr den Heijer.

Furthermore, Dr den Heijer argues the proposal would violate a data protection principle of ‘purpose limitation’ which holds that stored personal data may only be used for the purpose it was initially collected for.

He cited a case brought against Germany by an Austrian national at the European Court of Justice in 2008 which ruled that a system for processing personal data specific to foreign nationals for the purpose of fighting crime is not permissible.

Meanwhile, Peter Hustinx, the European data protection supervisor, had also expressed serious doubts about the legitimacy of the Commission’s proposed measures in 2009.

The supervisor at the time said the Commission had failed to demonstrate the necessity and proportionality of the proposals which are “both crucial elements to legitimate privacy intrusion”.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBrussels - home of beer, fries, chocolate and Google’s Public Policy Team - follow @GoogleBrussels
  2. HuaweiSeeds for the Future Programme to Bring Students from 50 countries to China for Much-Needed ICT Training
  3. EFASpain is not a democratic state. EFA expresses its solidarity to Arnaldo Otegi and EH Bildu
  4. UNICEFBoko Haram Violence in Lake Chad Region Leaves Children Displaced and Trapped
  5. HuaweiMaking Cities Smarter and Safer
  6. GoogleHow Google Makes Connections More Secure For Users
  7. EGBAThe EU Court of Justice Confirms the Application of Proportionality in Assessing Gambling Laws
  8. World VisionThe EU and Member States Must Not Use Overseas Aid for Promoting EU Interests
  9. Dialogue PlatformInterview: "There is a witch hunt against the Gulen Movement in Turkey"
  10. ACCAACCA Calls for ‘Future Looking’ Integrated Reporting Culture With IIRC and IAAER
  11. EURidNominate Your Favourite .eu or .ею Website for the .EU Web Awards 2016 Today!
  12. Dialogue PlatformAn Interview on Gulen Movement & Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey